We noted over a year ago that the increasingly poorly named "anti-war" movement (more of a gaggle than a "movement," and highly selective in being "anti-war") was betraying the Syrian people by failing to even acknowledge Bashar Assad's atrocities, and portraying the opposition as all CIA pawns or al-Qaeda jihadists or both. Now that Assad is apparently escalating to genocide and the US threatens air-strikes, is there any sign that the "anti-war" forces have been chastised into a more honest appraisal? Sadly, no.
To take just a few representative examples. "We're here to say that we're against US intervention in Syria," Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre of the Syracuse Peace Council told the local Post-Standard at the vigil they launched. "We stand again on the verge of illegally going to war under false pretenses." Do you care to explain that "false pretenses" comment, Amelia? We'll be waiting. Talk about fighting the last war—to say this days after a chemical attack in which perhaps over a thousand died betrays an unthinking analogy to Iraq, overlooking obvious, overwhelming context. And this is the least reactionary "anti-war" tendency, as contrasted with those openly supporting the war criminal Bashar Assad.
At yesterday's protests in front of the White House (an AFP photo reveals it was organized by the ultra-reactionary ANSWER Coalition), the favored chant was "No war in Syria!" (as captured on a BBC sound clip and also echoed with approval by Tehran Times). Don't ANSWER's cannon fodder follow the news at all? "No war in Syria"?! Two million refugees, 100,000 dead, schools getting bombed (see this harrowing BBC footage, in case you missed it), and this is somehow deemed a logical demand? The war in Syria is a fact, regardless of whether the US intervenes.
This degree of denial isn't surprising given the unhealthy diet of dictator-dupery dished out by the "left" (sic) media. In The Guardian, Jonathan Steele (who we have had to call out before) writes a frankly absurd piece entitled "Most Syrians back President Assad, but you'd never know from western media"—citing an opinion poll (!) to the effect that "Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war." First, that is a rather important caveat, although the phrase "fear of civil war" bizarrely implies that there isn't a civil war yet. (He presumably means fear of the jihadists.) Second, who was "polled"? Those Syrians who still have access to a phone or the Internet (meaning, presumably, they are not hiding in a bunker or languishing in a refugee camp) are obviously far more likely to be those who support the regime. Finally: the contention is rather contradicted by two years and counting of empirical reality.
Steele also waxes outraged about allegations from ex-CIA spook Philip Giraldi (whose dubious claims we have noted before) about supposed clandestine US arming of the Syrian rebels, yet displays no such dismay over massive un-hypothetical Russian arming of the murderous Assad regime throughout the war.
Just slightly more sophisticated is a Guardian piece by Nafeez Ahmed (presumably the same who peddles 9-11 conspiracy theories) entitled "Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern." Ahmed at least acknowledges Assad's war crimes (in an opening passage of perfunctory lip service before he gets to his real point). Soon enough, he touts Seymour Hersh's typically unverifiable claims that the CIA was seeking to destabilize Syria as early as 2007. That's a somewhat counterintuitive assertion, given that at that very time the CIA was having terrorism suspects renditioned to Bashar Assad's torture chambers. We are also treated to a reprise of Gen. Wesley Clark's comments from six years ago predicting, supposedly based on a conveniently classified memo, Washington's plans to overthrow seven governments in the next five years, including Syria. (Never mind that the five years are up and Sudan, Lebanon and Iran haven't been toppled by US bombs, and in Libya the Libyan people also had a little something to do with it.) But Clark's comments are hardly relevant today. Portraying the pending Syria intervention as some arbitrary neocon conspiracy ignores everything that has happened in the intervening years: revolution throughout the Arab world, an uprising in Syria escalating to civil war because the regime repeatedly massacred peaceful protesters, and finally acts of genocide.
More factual, at least, than Clark's conjecture are Ahmed's findings that Damascus turned down a planned gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey four years ago (cited to The National, UAE, Aug. 26, 2009) and in 2011 instead signed a deal with Tehran for a gas pipeline from Iran, across Iraq, to Syria's coast (Al Jazeera, Aug. 6, 2012). (It hasn't been built, of course.) Not noted by Ahmed but being circulated by like-minded Facebook partisans, Business Inisder reported Feb. 22 that Israel had granted US company Genie Energy a license to explore for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights—a move certain to be opposed by Damascus. (Adding to the conspiranoid titillation, Genie is said to be advised by Dick Cheney and its shareholders supposedly include Rupert Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild.)
Some Facebook partisans are less concerned with facts. One suddenly popular Internet meme goes: "Syria has oil? They need more democracy and freedom." Gee, that's really cute—except that Syria doesn't have oil to speak of. It is not a major producer (here are the top 20, via CIA Factbook), and not even significant enough to be an OPEC member (see list of Member Countries). Of course the proximity of oil is part of what makes Syria strategic—but I guess that doesn't sound quite as good as a Facebook meme. Not to mention that the meme (of course) implicitly delegitimizes the Syrian freedom struggle as a mere imperialist charade.
That the US has imperial interests in the Middle East is hardly a great revelation, and certainly those interests will be a big part of the context in any military intervention. But as we've said before: If you were sitting in a Damascus suburb with Assad's missiles raining down on your head, you might have more pressing concerns than US motives. The notion that the Syrians who are eager for intervention are naive about US intentions (or are US pawns) is deeply insulting. Pointing out the obvious problems with US military intervention is entirely legitimate, but failing completely to grapple with the question of what are the world's responsibilities to the Syrians in this dark hour is not.
And of course the "false flag" thesis (also being advanced by that right-wing populist huckster, Pat Buchanan) remains popular. Making the Facebook rounds is a Mint Press News piece asserting that interviewed survivors of the Ghouta attack blame the rebels and not Assad. Nobody seems to have noticed how questionably sourced the piece is. Who conducted these interviews? Are the writers on the ground in Ghouta? Has anyone ever heard of Mint Press News before? How does this square with numerous interviews with survivors by bona fide groups like Doctors Without Borders who clearly blame Assad? (See SAPA, Aug. 27)
The most honest and intelligent anti-war statement we've seen so far is from the International Marxist Humanist Organization, "Against US Attack on Syria! Against the Assad Regime and Other Reactionary Forces! For the Grassroots Syrian Revolution!" It at least acknowledges the existence of "genuinely revolutionary and democratic elements" in Syria, and recognizes our responsibilities of solidarity—but it still fails to ask what those "genuinely revolutionary and democratic elements" in Syria themselves have to say about foreign intervention…
Obama today announced that he will seek approval from Congress before taking military action (CNN)—which he didn't do in Libya, and which we suspect he is really doing as a face-saving way of not following through with air-strikes now that Assad has called his "red line" bluff. So if Congress doesn't approve action, expect this all to blow over in a matter of days, and the news cycle to move on—as Syrians continue to suffer and die…
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